Selling out the Holy Spirit

Acts 8:9-23New International Version (NIV)
Simon the Sorcerer
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

What is the difference between Simon’s works and Phillip’s works?

Simon was a sorcerer in the city of Samaria in the area of Samaria.  It is important to understand the people that Phillip was ministering to and the culture that Simon came. This area was formerly the Northern Kingdom of Israel before the Assyrians invaded and before the Babylonians invaded the Southern Kingdom (Judah).  After the Assyrians had conquered Israel, they carried away the smartest and the most educated people of the nation to Assyria (2 Kings 18:11-12).  It was the custom at that time for conquering nations to transplant people from one conquered nation to another.  So as the people of Israel left, new peoples, with new religions and new customs entered.  Thus Samaria became a mix of the poorest Jewish people left behind and the new nationalities blending customs and religion.

In the passage, Simon is a reflection of that mixed culture.  In the more Orthodox Judea, sorcery was not tolerated (Deut. 18:14).  The sorcery (mageuo – meaning one who practices sorcery or magic[1]) referred to here was considered witchcraft and was usually done for profit.  Phillip, on the other hand, was doing miracles that caused the city to have “great joy” (vs. 8).  He was delivering the gospel and performing great works (vs. 12) as a sign of the truth of the message he delivered.  Simon’s profit motive came through in vss. 18-19.  He offered money for something that God was giving away for free.  The truth of the Gospel contrasted with the depravity of Simon’s profit driven magic.  Simon’s sorcery was great (vss. 9-10), but the Holy Spirit and the gift of salvation had a far greater impact on the people (vss. 7-8, 12, 17).

I find the story of Simon fascinating.  Here was a fellow that was practicing sorcery, had a pretty good living, and had a great reputation in his practice.  Along came Phillip, and the Holy Spirit wrecks Simon’s world.  Phillip offered the Gospel and performed miracles that transformed the people in a way Simon could never achieve.  What is interesting is that Luke states that “even Simon believed.”  But did he really believe?  Did he put his full faith and trust in Jesus as the only way to be reconciled with God?  Or did he simply acknowledge the fact that Phillip demonstrated the power of the Gospel?

It’s sort of like my paycheck.  I believe (have faith and trust) that my work will pay me next Friday.  They have done so for 12 years.  Do I know with metaphysical certitude that this will happen?  No, a lot can happen between now and then.  But because I have evidence that it has happened without fault for 12 years, I believe that it will happen again.  When that money is deposited, I will believe (have certain knowledge) that the money is in my checking account.

Simon did not have the full trust in Jesus; he simply acknowledged the reality of Phillip’s work. He followed Phillip around to gain this “power” so that he could continue his way of life.  He even tried to buy the Holy Spirit when Peter and John prayed over the believers.  I think that this would indicate that Simon did not receive the truth of the Gospel and thus the Holy Spirit.  If he had, he would not have needed buy it from the apostles.

How different then is Simon from some of the preachers we see on TV and some pulpits? When the Gospel is diluted to a marketplace exchange of goods, when the cult of personality drives a ministry to focus on monetary gain, and when the pulpit becomes a place of commerce, then Simon’s gospel is in full effect.  When the church and the individual believer minister to the poor, preach the Gospel in power, pray for those in need, and unite as one body despite culture and politics, then we are truly reflecting the Gospel of Christ.  The Gospel that Phillip preached.

[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible: New International Version (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Pub., ©1996), 3408.

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